Archive for January, 2012

In the Kitchen

When you came in the front door of our trailer house the kitchen was the first thing you saw. Directly ahead was the end of the counter that my father had cut off when he’d made room for the wood stove. To your immediate left was the dark brown phone cabinet, with doors below the shelf that hid the phone books. Above that, hanging on the wall, was a sort of letter holder with slots and hooks for keys.

In the corner was the dining table. When we first moved in it was a formica table with metal chairs with plastic puffed backs and seats. Super glue loves formica. Over the years and many model airplane builds, my mother went nuts with the leftover glue constantly making love to the table top.

They bought a “kit” table, and six “kit” chairs. They were simple but sturdy, and the set was never completely finished and stained. The table top was finished, but the legs were bare. Two or three chairs eventually had a covering of clear coat, one with a dark stain that had been regretted, the rest stayed naked until one of my brothers inherited the set as an adult and burned them.

Follow the counter straight ahead from the door to the wall, turn left, and there was the stove. A little darker and more orange than the other “almond” appliances, it seemed to darken more with every year that passed. The electric coils on top were accessorized by tin-foil covered catches beneath, faithfully changed out once a week on Friday. Above the stove was the little metal hood, with the switches on top for fanning away the smoke of burning food or turning on an overhead light that never worked.

A tiny stretch of counter top further left separated the stove from the sink. Above the sink was a small window. In the early years it looked out over the empty lot in the park, later it commanded a much better view of the river and mountains. I rarely stood there, looking out over the familiar view, though.

When I was small, we learned how to do the dishes by hand, but it was, again, not a job I was required to do. Later, when we had a dishwasher installed beneath the far left end of the counter, it was my chore to unload the dishwasher and put the dishes in their proper places. I grumbled constantly and hated the job I had to do. Funny how life comes and goes in full circles, isn’t it? Now I have 4 children of my own and have never once owned a dishwasher in my adult life. I stand at the sink twice a day and wash by hand every pot, pan, plate, and percolator that gets used.

My other chore, besides the caretaking of my pets, was to sweep the hallway and kitchen. If I did a poor enough job, my mother would take over and finish it.

I think the only times in my life when I have been perfectly okay with garnering the disapproval of my mother was when it released me from my chores!

Aside from the absolute fluke of learning how to bake bread from scratch, and bake it well, I spent little time in the kitchen. My mother would rather do something herself, and do it right the first time, than teach me how to do it. I am the same way, and it’s something I have to work to overcome. I’m not there yet. I prefer to be in my kitchen alone. Quiet. Peaceful. A kid-free zone.

I have to remind myself that my big-picture goal is to raise children who know how to do more in the kitchen than boil water for Ramen.

We had birthday dinners in that kitchen. Most of the birthday pictures of me as a kid have a background of hideous brown, orange, yellow, early 80’s, kitchen-themed wallpaper. It really was awful.  We ate Sabbath dinners there, and weekday dinners. I rarely remember sitting around that table at lunches or breakfasts. To me, the idea of each and every meal being a sit-down eat-together, proper-manners sort of production was foreign when I married into this family. Going home to the more relaxed approach also feels odd now, too, though. I am somewhere in the middle, feeling that both sides of the coin have their proper place, I guess.

Entertaining was about as common as date nights. Most of the time our only visitors were family members. Church members were invited from time to time, more often than not they didn’t come. I can’t really blame them. Single wide trailer in a park doesn’t scream “Welcome to Our Sabbath Retreat”! 

Hiking was our social media in that time and place. Endless opportunities for exploring, kids running wild without driving anyone nuts, and no noisy, partying, crass neighbors to make your church friends question the friend-worthiness of your children.

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El Baño

Well, what can I say about the bathroom? It was a bit bigger than the bathroom I now possess and had a garden tub. Granted, it was one of those plastic almond-colored one-piece mobile home units, but my mother wanted a garden tub and a garden tub she got.

For some reason that eludes me now as much as then, one of the very first things my mother did was replace the brown linoleum in the bathroom with dark green carpet. She bought a matching double-curtained shower drape and hung a straw hat she’d decorated with ribbons and plastic flowers above the toilet.

The shower curtain was always closed. No one could leave the bathroom after showering without putting their wet towel in the laundry basket by the door and closing the curtain. Ever.

Which was, naturally, the rule in my own household when I had my own apartment, and later when I was first married. Until the day Carl was murdered. I don’t think my shower curtain was ever closed again (especially at night) for at least 7 years. Well, right about the time his murderer died, come to think of it. NOW the curtain can be closed and I can sleep.

The corner sink unit had a large under-sink cabinet and the sink itself was, of course, almond colored and plastic with cheap clear knobs with a red “H” and blue “C” on the tops.

I sat on that counter with my feet in the sink when I was ten and wanted to shave my legs. I had my father’s shaving cream slathered on and my mom’s razor all set and ready to go when my mom caught me. They’d been on their way out the door to go on an extremely rare dinner date. Everyone had a good laugh, my mom took some pictures, and I never again thought of shaving my legs until the day in my freshman year of high school I was teased about my hairy legs by a boy.

I sat on the counter several times over the years learning to stitch up the myriad wounds my father came home with. I learned to use a razor and carefully shave away the remnants of broken fingernails from the nail bed, how to use horse sutures to stitch someone’s hand back together, and how to keep my head when my big brother passed out after having an incident with the “canon” on the 4th of July. They brought in a lawn chair for him to sit on and keep his head down while my dad finished stitching and I sopped up the blood.

In all those times of profuse bleeding and passing out and such, I don’t remember a single drop of blood staining that green carpet.

I do remember, though, the year my cousin Lisa came to visit from California and left a permanent bleach mark on the bathroom carpet. She listened to New Kids on the Block on her walkman on the Sabbath and bleached her hair blonde while the grown ups were at church. She was 13. I was 9.

After that there was a green rug that lived directly on top of that bleach spot in front of the sink.

Above the sink there was a three-paneled mirror cabinet where the neosporin, betadine, rubbing alcohol, and bandages were kept. There were very rarely any prescriptions in our house, and never kept in the cabinet.

The towels were neatly stacked beneath the sink in the cupboard, beside my mother’s makeup bag and the ace bandages. Behind those, in the back corner, my mother kept her boxes of tampax and pads. After her hysterectomy when she was 34 (I was 8) she saved the remainder for when I would someday need them. Of course, I inevitably did, though I don’t think I ever fully appreciated the sentiment.

I remember going through a brief time of total water paranoia when I was 4. Though I’d always liked baths and water and swimming at the river, I must have seen some Jaws or something because I was suddenly terrified to get in the bathtub and tried to convince them that I’d ALWAYS been terrified. I remember my mom making a mark on the side of the tub with her eyeliner to show how deep the water would get and no deeper. It was about 4 inches from the bottom of the tub. I cried hysterically. And then I got a smack on the seat of my pants. And I took a bath with only minimal hyperventilating.

 

 

The ‘Rents Room

Down the short, dark paneled hallway from my room was my parents’ room. Brown carpet, light brown wallpapered walls with an early 80’s textured pattern, and the queen size bed with its dark brown, three paneled headboard.

In the center of each panel of the headboard was an oval. Scrollwork surrounded it. At night when I couldn’t sleep I would trace my fingers along the edge of the oval and around the scrollwork. Quietly, so I wouldn’t wake my mother.

I slept with my parents every chance I got.

Until I was 12.

When I was younger I’d have to go to bed in my own room, but could come crawl in beside my mom if I woke up in the night. If she were not in the mood to be bothered by a kicking child, I’d go around to the other side and slip under my dad’s arm and sleep there. Nothing ever woke him up. He slept like the dead from 9 pm sharp until 3:30 when he got up to go to work every day.

From about the age of 7 on, I slept in my own bed but my dad would come pick me up out of bed before he went to work and carry me in to his warmed up spot and tuck me in to sleep the rest of the night there.

As uncomfortable as I am sharing this information, these are happy, warm memories for me.

Sometimes, in my obsessive need to be close to my parents and please them I would be torn by being unsure which of those two was more important: to please? or to be close? I knew my mother wanted to be close to me, to be connected to me by unbreakable cords of camaraderie, kinship, love, “sisterhood” even. I also knew that she was a light sleeper and didn’t enjoy being awaken in the night.

So I would at times take my blanket and lay down in the hallway outside their door, sleeping there until I grew cold and eventually tiptoed back to my own bed.

Beside my father’s side of the bed was a nightstand. His lamp was on top, and inside the two small drawers were two things: his pajamas, and a book of edible plants. That book was, and maybe still is, one of his prized possessions. He prided himself on the ability to name and identify the varied plants we’d come across on our hikes as a family. We often came home with harvests of camas, sweet-and-sour-grass, cattail roots, and the like. I enjoyed that adventurous “wilderness family” mentality.

On my mother’s long, low dresser was a jewelry box, always full of old treasures. Watches that had long since stopped working, half a dozen of them, at least! Little trinkets and cheap rings, never anything of value, yet to me, of course, they were wonderful.

Their bedroom was the “catch-all” of the little house. It was where the laundry went while waiting to be folded, where the “junk” went when company came over, where the piles of bills and mail went since there was no desk or office.

Their closet had sliding mirrored doors. Three of them in a row. The corner was stuffed with boxes of old bills and paperwork, the top had rows of photo albums, and on the rack the hangars were so close you could hardly push them aside hard enough to hang one more thing up in there.

As I write this I can almost smell that particular smell of my mother. Familiar, soft like baby powder, strong like body odor. She’d cry if she heard me describe it like that, but unfortunately, it is a piece of her she can’t escape. She’s hated her effusive sweat glands her whole life, particularly those in her hands that constantly make them damp, and those under her arms, which embarrass her on a very regular basis.

Under the bed on my father’s side was the hard case that contained his .44 Magnum. We were never allowed to touch it and the ammunition was kept in a secret location that I believe varied from one place to the next. Once my mom shot it out behind my grandparents’ house. It knocked her down. She hated it from then on.

My parents’ bed was always made, pillows always neatly tucked under the folded top of the bedspread, with throw pillows neatly arranged on top.

My Room

When I was 4 years old we moved into a single wide trailer in a trailer park. Space number 10. We passed 9 single wide trailers on the left, a really old one and the manager’s big white two-story house on the right before we reached ours.

Ours was two-toned brown aluminum siding and was filled inside with dark brown cabinets, brown carpet, and hideous, scratchy, plaid curtains. And a great big sun-god bronze medallion thing that came with the house and took up half the kitchen wall.

Inside the door you’d find the living room to the right, with it’s fancy bay windows, then my brothers’ room at the end. To the left was the tiny kitchen, the bathroom with a garden tub, my room, then my parents’ room at the other end (and also with fancy bay windows).

There was no basement or attic, just a crawlspace between the axles behind the painted brown boards all around the bottom and neatly covered with lattice. There was no laundry room, just a washer and dryer tucked away under some shelves in the hallway between the kitchen and bathroom. There was no office, no desk, no piano, no computer. But before winter, my father had removed the bar counter at the pass-through from the kitchen and had installed a woodstove with a glass window in that corner.

And it was home.

It was a warm, cozy, full of love kind of home, and despite the lack of space, my mom raised 3 kids there. I lived in that house from the age of 4 until I was 17, though we did utilize the axles once and moved it from the trailer park to a piece of property where neighbors were scarce. I was 11 when we did that, and my kitty didn’t appreciate the confusion. We went back several times, but she was never found. Her name was Jenny and she was a pretty white cat who only loved me.

My room was tiny. Once a twin bed was put in there against the far wall below the window, there was about 5 square feet of floor space left. Next to the bed was a low dresser and on top was my lamp. It was a pretty pink lamp, and I can remember so clearly the sound it made when I switched it on and off. Probably because I spent every night reading until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and that sound was always the last thing I heard.

At the foot of my bed I kept the doll highchair for my Cabbage Patch babies, Jenny and Joshie (I know, very inventive, right?!) and where all my “junk” was tossed when my room was “cleaned”. My closet had enough space to hang a few dresses and a shelf above that I never could reach.

And that was it. I read so much that at first I kept questioning whether I had a book shelf in my room, but I don’t think I did. I think they must have sat on my dresser, because I can’t remember them being anywhere else, though having a book to read was a constant given. I think the majority were library books, only kept for a couple of weeks, if that.

My bed was a canopy bed. Dark wood, with tall posters and knobs that fit down through the holes in the curved pieces that went from the foot to the head. If you didn’t want it to be a canopy bed anymore, the curved pieces could be removed and the knobs would fit down in the posts and look nice anyway. The canopy cover didn’t come with the bed, and we couldn’t afford to buy the one in the catalog, so my mom made one. It was a rose pattern, with a ruffle all around the edge, and I would lay awake and see the faces of rose fairies in the pattern. I also had a little round throw pillow with roses on it, but the pattern wasn’t the same. I still have that pillow somewhere, floating around in one of the girls’ rooms.

My carpet was brown, like all the carpet in that house.

I remember my mom would daily make all the beds in the house, in the morning, after we’d gone to school. And though she’d tell me to clean my room, she’d eventually break down and clean it for me one day while I was at school. I never had to clean it myself, really, and making my own bed was neither required nor taught to me until I was probably 12? Then I learned, but it still wasn’t required.

Well, that’s my room, plus a bunch of extra stuff! More tomorrow!

Faded

When I first met C & R, I was amazed at the clarity of their childhood memories. C’s have always been stark, journalistic portraits such as you’d see in a history book. No surprise there. R’s are more like a beautiful book – an Anne of Green Gables book, or a Jane Austen book: full of pose and poetry. The sharpness of a conversation recorded perfectly in quotation marks, the softness of catching the wafts of honeysuckle on the breeze and the corresponding sonnet with it.

Mine are not like that. I have no clarity, no quotation marks. Mine is more like an impressionist painting, one that has enough light and color to believe it to be pretty, and enough darkness to wonder what impression exactly it is that you’re supposed to come away with.

I remember embarrassing moments, because I was easily embarrassed and because those were the moments when the most violent emotions were felt. Everything else at times seemed an exercise in controlling how I felt in order to act the way I was supposed to. Embarrassment came quickly, and overruled my thoughts for a brief second. Those memories stand out in my mind and surface far easier than the rest.

I don’t remember enough about my childhood. I don’t remember normal life, day in, day out types of things. I have to look for those memories.

Sadly, I also have to look for memories of certain times in my adult life, too. I remember very little of ELA’s babyhood. I can picture her crib with all the little baby girl clothes piled into it, waiting for her birth, and I can remember how her room looked after her sister was born and she moved into a toddler bed. But I can’t picture ELA in her crib, or how the room looked, or sitting with her in the night to nurse. Or watching her sleep.

Those are the things that trouble me. I want more than just impressionist paintings in my mind, not only of my children’s little years, but also of my own. At one point in my life, the family I was born into received all the love, loyalty, and devotion that my own family does now. And that’s not a small thing!

So, what will come next is a series of posts that will be merely descriptions of very boring things: my room, my house, our pets, the family car, my school. Then I will post descriptions of the people, inasmuch as I can separate my memories of them then from my memories of them now. Maybe somewhere in there will be something I think I’ve forgotten but have only temporarily lost in the fog of life-living and motherhood. Maybe it will restore a little faith in myself. One can hope, right?

May the boringness not overwhelm you.